The humble bicycle has been seen as a viable mode of human transport for the best part of 200 years, used by the young, the old and the middle-aged man in lycra. Yet wherever there is a bicycle there is the platform for competition, with many striving to prove themselves across multiple disciplines. There is BMXing for the youngsters, there’s indoor Zwifting for times of lockdown, and there’s the off-road gravel scene to keep things on trend. But if you really want to prove yourself as the finest cyclist in the world, it’s the intensity of the pro peloton which will be your calling. The most influential, most important and most interesting race which that peloton partakes in is that of the grandest of grand tours, the Tour de France, with it encompassing everything that is great about the professional cycling scene.
In recent years, particularly after the Armstrong hurricane swept through and cycling began to find a proper foothold in the Olympics, that cycling scene has been fed into the virtual world. It’s here where an annual release of Tour de France – the video game – has attempted to highlight the finest moments of professional bike racing. If we’re honest though, it’s failed to deliver each and every time.
- Tour de France 2020 Review
- Tour de France 2019 Review
- Tour de France 2018 Review
- Tour de France 2017 Review
- Tour de France 2016 Review
- Tour de France 2015 Review
But that’s not stopping NACON and Cyanide Studios from pushing their bikes up to the starting line once more in 2021, hoping that cyclists the globe over will be able to follow in the footsteps of their heroes in Tour de France 2021. Unfortunately another year of this sporting spectacular brings another copy and paste job, leaving fans of the sport left wanting once more.
If we’re honest, in some ways Tour de France 2021 has spun the pedals the wrong way, and even though we’ve previously spoken highly of the Challenges which have been incorporated into matters, this time around they have been totally omitted. Instead what we are left with is a bare bones cycling experience that works a full Race mode alongside those of Pro Team and Pro Leader. Really though, they could all be thrown into one as the main gameplay in each is pretty similar.
There are two ways in which you can look at this 2021 edition of Tour de France: as a cycling simulator that fails to do the job, or as a cycling management experience which fares a little better. You see, should you be looking for the first option there then you’re going to be left extremely disappointed. But should micromanaging the finer details of a bike race be your thing, gathering up marginal gains in order to be the best possible cycling manager, well, you could find yourself enjoying the experience. Just.
The Race mode is the bread and butter of what we have here, giving players the chance to partake in a series of stage races or the one-day classics, earning experience points as they go, in turn unlocking further events. The Tour de France is the standout option here and playing through all 21 stages of the 2021 Tour is more than doable. Choosing a team of your fancy from all the real-world options (although not quite stacked out with every rider and team license) will have you taking on the hills, competing for the sprints and getting involved in the breakaways that define the cycling world.
The stages themselves are well-replicated too, and whilst not exactly to the correct length and structure of the real-world tour, Cyanide and NACON aren’t too far away. For instance, they’ve shortened the final run around Paris and the Champs-Élysées by pretty much half, but other stage profiles are at least within a few kilometres of the stages our favourite pros will be racing across this year. With various difficulty levels, the chance to play either alone or in cooperative fashion and with either Cyanide’s team ratings or your own pre-defined EPO-enhanced super teams, there’s a decent amount of variability in what running through the stages allows.
The problem is, much like the real-world sport itself, it’s a very niche product and even if you find yourself at one with the cycling world, spending hours slogging away across 200km long stages is only really a viable option for the seriously hardcore. Even then only for the hardcore with a bit of a screw loose. Instead we’d expect many to either fast forward any stage to a specific moment in time – the lead up to a sprint, a nudge for a KOM or as a breakaway occurs – to race it in real-time, before heading back into the overview and skipping a few kilometres again until the next point. In fact, the game urges you to do just that, both in narrative and the ease in which skipping forward can be done. It’s for the best too as without it this is a game that would utterly define the word ‘grind’. There’s a reason why the entire thing can be fully simulated in a matter of seconds, also.
Complete a stage and you’ll be rewarded with XP depending on your finishing position, before throwing you straight into the next lengthy ride. Rinse and repeat this a few times – 21 times for the Tour itself – and you’ll find yourself unlocking further races, enhancing the competitive spirit along the way.
It won’t be long before you discover that you can also race the iconic Paris-Nice route, through the Critérium du Dauphiné, over the cobbles of Paris–Roubaix or up the climbs of Liège–Bastogne–Liège. There are a decent amount of race types available in TDF 2021 in fact, and with the inclusion of My Tour which will allow you to pick and choose your favourite stages, compiling them into your own personal Grand Tour, you’ll not be left wanting here.
Outside of the main race options are those of Pro Team and Pro Leader. Again, once involved the basic gameplay is vastly similar to what is found in Race, yet these allow the opportunity for you to manage a team and turn it into the finest racing group in the world (a la the Dave Brailsford and Team Sky/Ineos ideals), or to create your very own rider from scratch and push them through a calendar of races, honing skills and slogging yourself to death in an attempt to keep up with the competition. This really can feel like a proper grind as you attempt to earn enough cash and points across multiple seasons in order to unlock entries to the bigger races.
No matter which of the options you are looking to take in here though, without simulating the race in a matter of seconds, the basic gameplay is poor. Visuals have been ripped straight out of last year’s title – and probably a couple before that too – and even though a bit of additional shine seems to have been thrown over the peloton thanks to the power of the next-gen consoles, it’s still not particularly great.
Rider character models are nothing more than the same cookie-cutter Vincenzo Nibali clones we’ve previously ‘enjoyed’, the bikes are all similar but with a different colouration and livery to separate the teams (although none replicate the real world models) and even though the surrounding areas of the stages themselves come across as okay, once more a full-on copy and paste job is the overriding feel.
Further to that and there’s just no immersion or excitement here. Riders never fall off no matter how hard you try, happily bouncing along with the pack, through crash barriers and into the crowd without a care. Seeing as crashes are part and parcel of cycling, it’s strange this is totally inaccurate. Hell, come to a corner and it’s possible to just power your way round without a tap of the brake lever. And then whilst there is a very slight feeling of real-world replication in how each character rides, leaning into corners, criss-crossing the road as they hit the mountain climbs and utilising cross-wind trains in order to stay in the draft, things just feel off.
And don’t get me started on the cobble sections. Yes, a cobbled climb provides an altogether different experience than rolling across smooth tarmac, but surely there is a better way of replicating this in-game other than just shaking the hell out of the riders so much that it is enough to give the player a headache.
There are a few positives in the gameplay though and it’s nice that the development team have initiated a time trial stance and given the opportunity to take up an aero position when the time calls. The problem is, seeing as you’ll be fast forwarding your way through many/all of the stages you play, this is hardly an innovative move.
The audio isn’t much better. The same old commentary is spurted out along the same old lines that have been included for years now, with just little interspersing moments saved for specific climbs and notable facts. And whilst there is little sound that comes from the finest bikes, yet again the crowd calls of allez, allez, allez are enough to see you want to ride into the nearest ditch.
Throw in a training section that allows you to get to grips with the game as a whole, and a fully-fledged rider and team editor which will appeal to absolutely no one but the most enthusiastic of bike-riding nuts, and TDF 2021 crosses under the finishing arch as the lanterne rouge.
Should you be coming to Tour de France 2021 looking for a proper bike racer which will let you replicate the real-world grand tour, this isn’t the game for you. And unfortunately unless those behind it take a season out to prepare themselves for future years, it’s hard to see how this franchise can ever begin to appeal going forward. That said, there’s a little enjoyment found from the micromanaging of your race team, especially in the Pro Leader and Pro Team modes, and so if you’re more interested in facts and stats than actual riding, there could be a case for spending a little time with Tour de France 2021.
Hit the road once again with Tour de France 2021 on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One